This blog is devoted to remembrances and essays on general topics, including literature and writing. It has evolved over time, and some older posts on this site might reflect a different perspective and purpose.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Reviews, Honest and Otherwise

            One of the people I follow on Twitter put up a post recently asking why it’s easier to get people to shell out money to buy your book than it is to get them to review it if they get it free. I feel her pain.
            Probably the great delusion of every self-published author is that once the book is out, a couple dozen friends will quickly post positive reviews on Amazon. Hah! A lot of them won’t even download the book on a free promotion day, and half the friends who actually do buy the book will insist on getting a hard copy from you directly. That means, of course, that Amazon has no record of the sale and won’t let them do a review, even if they wanted to. Which they usually don’t.
            On the plus side, that means the reviews of the book pretty quickly get honest, which means the author has at least a marginally real idea of how his or her work is being received.

4.7 Out of 5 Stars

            My first mystery novel, The McHenry Inheritance, is currently averaging 4.1 out of 5 stars, with the overwhelming percentage of reviewers now being strangers. What mattered most to me about the reviews was that no one gave it fewer than three stars. That said to me that, whatever they might have felt about the book’s strengths and weaknesses, the reviewers at least conceded it a fundamental level of writing competence. That helped me have the confidence to write the second one.
            The second book, Wash Her Guilt Away, came out less than a year ago. Fewer friends reviewed it than reviewed the first, so nearly all the reviews are from strangers. When I put the book up on Amazon, I held my breath. I had tried to build tension and interest at the beginning through character development and atmosphere, rather than action and bloodshed, and had no idea how that would play. When the first three reviews from strangers came in at five stars, I heaved a sigh of relief.
            By the way, the second book is now averaging 4.7 out of five stars. I feel it’s a more fully realized work than the first one, and it’s good to see that, so far at least, readers are agreeing.

Who Writes Reviews, Anyway?

            Even so, it seems to me that my books aren’t getting as many reviews as the sales numbers indicate they should. Part of that might be that the readership probably skews older, and older readers are a bit less self-absorbed and inclined to think the world is waiting for their opinion.
            Which got me to wondering what kind of reviews an undisputed classic gets. So I checked the Constance Garnett translation of Anna Karenina on Amazon and found that it had been reviewed by more than 1,200 people. I wonder why any of them thought, at this point, that anyone would care about what they had to say.
            Another interesting thing was that Anna Karenina averaged 4.1 out of 5 stars in its reviews — same as my first trashy mystery and lower than the second. So much for the idea that the crowd generally gets it right. And you have to feel a bit sorry for poor Tolstoy. His book went up on Amazon after all his friends were dead and couldn’t help him out with a positive review.